The opportunity for an academic graph

23 January 2011 | 0 Comments

Rafael Corrales’ post about reaching out to his Professors to get their top papers (in order to find great ideas) pointed out a glaring shortcoming (and therefore opportunity) in academia.

I posted in the comments to his post that there are two major shortcomings:

  1. Content is primarily behind walled gardens. It’s a pain to get access to many academic papers (often have to pay, why?). Can’t link directly to the paper when you cite in a blog post or article (this is an opportunity to create a different type of citation mechanism).
  2. Sites that have content do not do a good job of indexing. Google Scholar tries to fix that but I believe they only index the abstracts, not the full paper.

He aptly pointed out that these are simply accessibility and discoverability problems.

On accessibility: I often find myself staring at a site like or EBSCOhost that force me to pay to gain access to academic work. Shouldn’t this knowledge be free? In fact, there are many sites that will get you to pay for academic papers when they are available for free elsewhere, but can only be found with quite a bit of searching. Which leads to my next point.

On discoverability: if you have a particular interest (say, social psychology), how do you find the top papers in that field? How do you find the academics that are most interesting in social psychology? Are citations a good-enough measure of quality for the laity – what about a straight-up review and rating (Yelp-style)?

A quick run through and dug up a few interesting options beyond Google Scholar.  Many responses on Quora and the web were “ Just ask a Librarian ” or find an academic in the field and ask them.  While certainly a viable option, it doesn’t exactly fit with my predilection towards simple technological solutions. Some sites suggested seem promising (at least for the discoverability part) and are attempting to fix this issue in various forms.

Thinking bigger picture, there appears to be a unique opportunity to go beyond the citation-driven measure of quality and walled gardens of content to create a full “academic graph” of connections between people, publications, papers, and ideas.  I’m glad to see some entrepreneurs going after that opportunity.  But first things first, all this knowledge needs to be easily discoverable and accessible.